Losing the Hockey Game: Dealing With a Loss

Losing the Hockey Game
TKnoxB, via Flickr

The thrill of victory also means the agony of defeat for the loser. How to cope with the loss.

By Warren Nye

Everyone talks about winning. But for every winner there is a loser. That’s why it’s worth a discussion of some of the key points on how to help your team overcome losing the hockey game and stay motivated.

A fellow coach once asked me what the difference between motivating and inspiring an athlete really was. Here is my take on that.

Losing the Hockey Game Provides Motivation & Inspiration

There is a difference. What most people think of motivation—i.e., the motivational speaker talking about money, power, success, and glory—is actually inspiration. The two can work together, in that you can be inspired to change your behaviors to help you realize a dream, but there is a difference.

Inspiration is something that comes from without: from listening to another person or being involved in an event, or through observing something which triggers an emotional response. Motivation, however, comes from within. Motivation is a fire; a fire which is ignited by a dream and fueled by passion.

You may ask what happens to the athlete after a tough loss or when the team is on a losing streak. What is the best option for a captain or coach? Do they ‘fire’ them up with a motivation speech, or…?

As with most things in life, the way a team leader handles defeat with their team is about as unique as each one and their players. Still, there are a few important aspects of team dynamics as they relate to future team success that are worth considering, including the following:

The Key to Future Success When You Lose

Reinforce effort One of the most important things a leader can do after a loss is to emphasize effort (assuming the team didn’t quit).  By positively reinforcing effort, you will essentially be shaping future behaviors. That, in all likelihood, will lead to future success.

Reframe the experience It goes without saying that losing the hockey game is never fun. But often when we lose in life we tend to make the experience more catastrophic than is necessary (or accurate). Losing a big game can be deflating, but is it the end of the world? Focus on the experiences to build on, or ways to use the experience to come back stronger later in the season. If it is an early-season loss, look for ways to keep it in perspective so that the rest of the season isn’t lost.

Build for the future Even with losing the hockey game, there are always important points to build on for the future. What did the team do right? Were there specific plays that went well, or periods in the game where you were more competitive? Great team leaders find those moments and use them to build a positive foundation for the future. This of course can be used to improve the team later on in the season.

Short memory Teach your team to develop a short memory for losing. Great athletes have incredibly short memories. Rather, they channel their focus and motivation toward the next practice, training session, or game. This is not something they are born with. Instead, it’s a skill they have developed over time that has allowed them to learn from their previous frustrations, adversities, and failures.

Team input Ask the team for their input. Authoritarian types may not like to hear this, but when people (in this case, the team) are solicited and encouraged to share their thoughts and perspectives in a democratic-type manner, they often begin to take even more ownership of their experience—and play harder as a result.

A Teachable Moment

This perceived loss of power does not imply that the captain or coach should sit back and allow the team to take over when looking at ways for improving in the future. Instead, this suggests that team leaders find a delicate balance between their own instruction and soliciting input from the team. How could we have done that better? What play might have been more effective in that situation? Ask the team and listen closely—you might be surprised by what you learn!

Remember to stay positive no matter what the outcome may be, as tomorrow your team will shine once again.

Warren Nye’s mission is to help athletes and businesses reach their own peak performance through coaching and development of mental-toughness skills. Visit his Facebook page Mind Over Sport. This article originally appears on the Women’s Hockey Life website.

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